Racial Issues in Criminal Justice: The Case of African Americans

By Marvin D. Free Jr. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 11
Do African American Police
Make a Difference?

Helen Taylor Greene


INTRODUCTION

In the foreword to Dulaney's (1996, p. xi) definitive work entitled Black Police in America, Reuben Greenberg, Chief of Police in Charleston, South Carolina, notes that African American police can improve the relationship between police departments and African American communities and that they have improved the police profession as well. Although apparent at the macro-level, it may not always be apparent in every locality or agency. Cashmore (1991, p. 101) notes that black police representation has both symbolic value and practical consequences. Symbolically, the presence of black police chiefs is important because they hold powerful positions. From a practical standpoint, black law enforcement officers have been instrumental in decreasing police brutality and increasing minority recruitment. Cashmore nonetheless questions whether black police chiefs have any actual value to the majority of blacks and if they are representative of the working and underclass black population.

Trying to ascertain the effect of African American police on policing is a daunting task. First, these officers are employed in numerous local, state, federal, and private agencies. The type of agency and jurisdiction served will certainly contribute to the effect, if any, of African American police. Additionally, whether African American police have an impact will vary by officer, neighborhood, region, as well as numerous other factors. In communities where black officers are disliked by their (black) peers and shunned by racist colleagues, they may have a minimal impact on black communities and the problem of crime. In others, where they are re-

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